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Gonzaga Basketball

‘Roller coaster’ pro career has taken Washington State’s Robert Franks from G-League title to NBA to Australia’s NBL

Boston Celtics’ Robert Franks, left, takes the bench during the first half of an NBA Summer League game against the Miami Heat at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Saturday, in July.  (Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal)

LAS VEGAS – Robert Franks didn’t need to spend much time pondering the question when recently asked how he’d characterize his professional basketball career to this point.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Franks said. “A lot of ups and downs.”

By mid-June, the former Washington State standout had already returned home to the United States following his first season overseas with the Brisbane Bullets of Australia’s National Basketball League. Not unlike most players with aspirations of getting to the NBA – or in his case, getting back there – Franks was closely monitoring a six-game Finals series between Boston and Golden State, unaware the Celtics would be calling him in two weeks’ time with a can’t-miss opportunity.

In a roundabout way, the ex-Cougar was a beneficiary of Boston’s blockbuster trade in early July, which sent five players to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for guard Malcolm Brogdon. With Summer League approaching, Boston needed to fill out its Summer League roster. Franks got one of the coveted phone calls.

“They just traded all the bottom half of their roster and they said you can come in and try to compete,” he said after his Summer League opener in Las Vegas. “I was watching (the Finals), it was a fun series and obviously the Boston Celtics have a lot of great winning tradition. So it’s just such a great organization to be in and be a part of, for sure.”

Now three years removed from his last game in crimson and gray, Franks has already played for four separate NBA organizations in some form or fashion and the former All-Pac-12 forward is bracing for his second season in the highly competitive NBL after inking a two-year contract with the Adelaide 36ers.

Opportunities can be few and far between for players in Franks’ position at Summer League. Teams tend to invest minutes into recent draft picks or priority free-agent pickups, giving others sparse opportunities to make a splash. Franks is familiar with the format from past trips, so the 25-year-old arrived at this year’s Summer League showcase with a clear goal.

“Just always play with a high motor while I’m out there, try to be a leader,” he said. “Show them I’m seasoned, I can be a rotational player and then just continue to do the things that I do great. Shoot the basketball and show my versatility.

“It’s always excit ing when you get a chance to play and try to make that next step to the next level, so I’m just out here, I’m excited and trying to treat every opportunity like it’s my last.”

In four Summer League appearances, Franks logged 8.9 minutes per game, averaging 2.5 points and 0.5 rebounds. His most impressive performance in Vegas came against the Milwaukee Bucks, when Franks scored seven points on 2-of-3 shooting and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line while blocking two shots.

“He provides some versatility. Kind of a three-and-D,” said Celtics assistant Ben Sullivan, the team’s head coach at Summer League. “He’s a physical guy, screens, can knock down a shot and he’s got a good way about him. I’ve really liked what he’s brought to the table.”

In three pro seasons, Franks has been a productive scorer for three different G-League clubs, keying a championship run for one of those, the Lakeland Magic, during the 2020-21 season. Franks averaged 16 points and eight rebounds in 29.7 minutes per game during Lakeland’s playoff run, held inside the Orlando bubble, and poured in 23 points during a semifinal win against the Santa Cruz Warriors.

“We were all in a bubble, so we all had to get along with each other and find each other’s niches,” Franks said. “I loved the experience.”

Franks caught bubble fatigue toward the end of his stay in Orlando, admitting “everybody was ready to go home, but us winning made everything sweeter.”

The Vancouver, Wash., native got a brief sample of the NBA, averaging 6.1 points and 2.0 rebounds in seven games for the Orlando Magic during the 2020-21 season, but the overwhelming majority of his minutes as a pro hooper have come in the G-League.

During the 2019-20 season, Franks averaged 18.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22 games for the Greensboro Swarm, an affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets, before closing the year with the Sacramento Kings’ affiliate in Stockton, Calif., where the former WSU player played in 14 games, averaging 15.6 points and 7.9 rebounds.

Franks has started in 40 of the 50 total G-League games he’s played in, averaging 15.9 points on 48% shooting and 36% shooting from the 3-point line. He’s also averaged 5.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

It’s reasonable to think there might have been an adjustment period for Franks upon arriving in Australia, but the versatile forward didn’t require much time to get acclimated, finishing fifth in the NBL at 18.1 points per game and fourth with 8.8 rebounds. He erupted for 30 points and 15 rebounds in a season finale against the Cairns Taipens.

Franks played on a team with Australian-born college standouts Tanner Krebs (Saint Mary’s) as well as Anthony Drmic (Boise State). Not long after Franks left Brisbane, the Bullets signed another former Cougar, Aron Baynes, who’s made an improbable return to pro basketball after suffering a career-threatening spinal cord injury during the Tokyo Olympics.

“Everybody says it’s like America on steroids and I really enjoyed it,” Franks said. “It was summertime over there when I went. Everybody’s friendly, everybody’s happy. It’s a great place to be.”

The playing style in Australia is more comparable to the American game than some may think.

“The playing style is kind of similar. It’s very high pace,” Franks said. “I think the difference is just the physicality. They let you play more physical out there and obviously you being an import, they’re not going to let you get away with the easy stuff. People play more physical. Just trying to play through that.”

Franks hasn’t taken to every Australian tradition, though. Players consume beer in the locker room after games end but Franks, a nondrinker, doesn’t partake, normally sticking to a sports drink.

“I think the tradition I don’t like is they drink beer after games,” he laughed. “I’m not a fan of that. … I drink Gatorade while they drink beer.”

Franks is still following WSU from afar, noting “the program’s still in great hands with (coach) Kyle Smith.”

His individual success in Pullman, especially the final two seasons when Franks averaged 17.4 and 21.6 ppg while shooting better than 40% from 3-point range, wasn’t ever enough to get the Cougars over the hump, but Smith’s recruiting chops have helped WSU win 52 games over the last thee seasons.

Though the program’s recent success and recruiting prowess have come as a surprise to some, Franks suggested that “it shouldn’t be.”

“I’m glad it’s back on top,” he added, “because that’s a great place to be and the fan base there it shows when you win, they come out and support.”

Barring another NBA opportunity, Franks’ personal journey will continue next season in the NBL.

“I’m true to myself and I believe in my journey so it’s been nothing less than a blessing so far,” he said.